Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Richard Hauser and the evils of Marx

Richard was a distinguished Austrian sociologist who had contributed to the Wolfenden report that led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England, Wales and Scotland in the late 1960's.

I was remembering him on the plane today because I saw a reference to his wife, Hephzibah Menuhin, pianist sister of the violinist Yehudi and human rights activist.

I met him after responding to an advertisement in the New Society. He lived in a house in Pimlico, a widower, with a clutch of young people, running an ill-defined (for me) social research/action institute, that I visited several times and to which Richard wanted to recruit me. I was never clear as to what my responsibilities might be and resisted co-option.

He was, however, extraordinarily charismatic and as a Jew had fled Austria in 1938 not without receiving permanent damage to his hearing, courtesy of Gestapo interrogation.

I vividly remember one story he told me that gives you an idea of his character. He was invited in the early 1970s to a Marxist-Leninist feminist group in Germany. He accepted. Are you mad? His German friends asked. 'They only invite men to enjoy the luxury of them refusing'! He went in any case. That evening several hundred women were gathered in the room. The time came and went for the talk to begin but the 'chair' carried on talking to women in the front row, pointedly ignoring Richard.

Richard thought that he could either leave or have a row. He chose, typically, the latter. He stood up and pointed at one of the only two other men in the room (a portrait of Marx, next to one of Lenin) and proclaimed in a loud voice, 'I am not going to speak to you this evening under the oppressive portrait of that man'! He went on to list all Marx's offences against women including, I recall, not allowing his daughters to marry whom they wanted. He finished to complete silence, imagining that he would now be torn limb from limb. Instead the audience burst out laughing and they had an admirable meeting. Subsequently the portrait of Marx, Richard learnt, was taken down. The fate of Lenin was not recorded.

A final memory was going with Richard to a local doctor's surgery (for what purpose I cannot recall) and in the waiting room was a young pregnant woman and her anxious partner - he had parked his motorcycle on double yellow lines and kept peering out of the window. Until he realised his uncertainty was communicating itself to her. Suddenly the mood changed and he started telling her of a moment when he had been swimming in a pond and breaking the surface had encountered a light that was more than normal, graced, enlightening. It was such an improbable story coming from that man at that moment, dressed in his motorcycle leathers, that often I think I dreamt it. I did not - it was a moment tinged by a rarity of grace that lifted us all up, shared in the most unlike proximity. There is no where that cannot be graced  which was appropriate for the Quakerly Richard - every moment a no nonsense sacramental one.

2 comments:

  1. I also met Richard after responding to an advert. He was one of the most remarkable men I have ever met.

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    Replies
    1. I agree, part of me regrets not being co-opted, but we did have wonderful times together, great conversations, and he gave you that kind of attention that a young person needs to help them believe in themselves...

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